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The refugee who became a soccer ambassador

Apollinaire Ouedraogo left his home in Burkina Faso seven years ago and arrived on Teesside as a refugee. 20 October 2008. Despite being able to speak little English, Apollinaire set about learning the language and enrolled himself on a computer course.

In a dramatic turnaround of fortunes, the 29-year-old now runs his own successful business and has been nominated for the Gazette’s Community Awards as a result of his voluntary work. Apollinaire, from Stockton, set up the African Sports Embassy, which offers children from a range of nationalities the chance to get together and play sport.

fotbal25.jpgHe said: “It’s fantastic to see that people are recognising the work we are doing.
“It’s very difficult to explain the feeling I get from these children and seeing the enjoyment they get out of the sessions. A lot of them were just hanging around the streets, so we gave them the chance to play football.

“It’s not about having a team of refugees and asylum seekers. We need to create opportunities for people to mix. That’s the best way of promoting integration.”

Every year, the African Sports Embassy holds an annual event in honour of John Owens, a founding member of Stockton’s multi-racial football team, who tragically died of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

The John Owens trophy is now regarded as a highly prestigious competition, which attracts up to 800 players including councillors and international footballers.

Apollinaire also visits schools – where he delivers workshops on culture and sport in to promote understanding of racism in sport.

Apollinaire was nominated for the Children’s Champion award by Sean Ridgeway, from Stockton, who met Apollinaire while teaching Information Technology for the Stockton International Family Centre.

Sean, who describes Apollinaire’s voluntary work as “outstanding”, said: “When he came over from Burkina Faso, he could hardly speak any English or use a computer, but he wanted to learn so he joined my IT classes. I could see that he was a very determined person. I would like to congratulate him on the hard work he has invested in young people.”

Any schools interested in competing in the John Owens trophy on November 11 can contact Apollinaire on 07817 325797. The competition is open to Year 10 boys across Teesside.

This year’s Children’s Champion award is being sponsored by the Stockton Riverside College.

A spokeswoman from the college said: “We are delighted to recognise those individuals whose initiative and dedication has helped young people with their continued development.” Nominations are now closed for the Community Champions. A shortlist will be drawn up ahead of the awards night on November 14.

Immigration History Database, online

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